Eternal Punishment vs. Finite Crime
In Old Testament times, people would take revenge against one another in ways that were absolutely shocking. There was no balance. It was not uncommon to kill someone for being disrespectful or for some petty crime. Then God stepped in with the whole “eye for an eye” thing to keep things a bit more fair when it came to punishment and justice.
Later, in the New Testament, Jesus raises the bar even more. It was no longer good enough to “let the punishment fit the crime” so to speak. Now, you’re supposed to “turn the other cheek!” You’re supposed to respond with grace and love. Ok, we got the whole punishment fitting the crime thing (for the most part), but we’re still a long way away from turning those cheeks.
With that in mind, I’d like to draw your attention to Hell. (How’s that for a segue?) I’ve heard complaints about various aspects of Hell as a concept. The one that I’d like to address today is the idea that (some) people are disturbed by the fact that one can commit a one time crime (rejecting Christ) and then have an eternity of punishment.
First of all, I’d like to point out that rejecting Christ is not actually a “one time” event. It’s an ongoing thing that one does continually. That being said, if it lasts until one’s death, it’s still a finite time and therefore people have difficulty with the eternality of Hell as a consequence of this finite sin.
If we grant these types of assumptions, we still have some problems. Let’s use “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” as an example. Particularly, the question that Regis Philbin made famous…”Is that your final answer?” That’s really what this is about. When one rejects Christ, and continues to do so until their death, that point of death is basically like God saying, “Is that your final answer?”
To say that it’s “unfair” or “immoral” to enact eternal separation for a one-time thing is either a misunderstanding of how things work or it is simple intellectual dishonesty. It would be like saying that it’s unfair that someone made a one-time decision to jump from the top of a 50 story building and then has to be dead for such a long time afterward. Why couldn’t they just be dead for a few minutes or a few days? After all, it didn’t take very long to jump from the building and die.
This is one of the reasons why so many evangelical Christians try so hard to bring people to the truth. This is a big decision which will affect our entire eternity. This isn’t like trying a different hair style or something. It’s not a matter of going to a new restaurant to see if you like it. You don’t get to try it again another way.
There is nothing unfair or unjust about it. It’s simply a very important decision that should not be made lightly. We are faced with those types of decisions all the time. Though, nowadays some of what used to be lifelong decisions are less so…like who one marries. Ideally, this is supposed to be a big decision which will affect you for the rest of your life. Today, you can get a quickie divorce and move on, but hopefully you get the idea that different decisions should be weighed differently.
At the risk of bringing up Pascal’s Wager, it might not be a bad idea to think really hard about our eternal destiny. It would be a shame to miss the boat and spend eternity not having the life you could have had if only you had chosen differently in this life.
Grace, love and peace.